Tag Archives: woman

Hidden women of history: Flos Grieg, Australia’s first female lawyer and early innovator



Grata Flos Greig, First Female Law Graduate, c1904, University of Melbourne. Flos was the first woman admitted to the Australian legal profession.
University of Melbourne Archives, UMA/I/5131

Renee Knake, RMIT University

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

When Grata Flos Matilda Greig walked into her first law school class at the University of Melbourne in 1897, it was illegal for women to become lawyers. But though the legal system did not even recognise her as a person, she won the right to practice and helped thousands of other women access justice. In defying the law, Greig literally changed its face.

That she did so is a story worthy of history books. And how she achieved this offers key insights for women a century later as they navigate leadership roles in the legal profession and beyond.

Flos, as she was known, grew up in a household full of possibilities unlimited by gender boundaries. Born in Scotland, as a nine-year-old she spent three months sailing to Australia with her family to settle in Melbourne in 1889. Her father founded a textile manufacturing company. Both parents believed that Flos and her siblings – four sisters and three brothers – should be university educated at a time when women rarely were.

She grew up firm in the knowledge that women could thrive in professional life, and witnessed that reality unfold as older sisters Janet and Jean trained to become doctors. Another sister, Clara, would go on to found a tutoring school for university students. The fourth sister, Stella, followed Flos to study law.

Women could not vote or hold legislative office, let alone be lawyers, when 16-year-old Flos began to study law. Yet she did not let this deter her. As she approached graduation she focused on, “the many obstacles in the path of my full success. I resolved to remove them”.

Other feminine aspirants, she noted, had previously wished to enter the profession, “but the impediments in the way were so great, that they concluded, after consideration, it was not worthwhile”.

Flos felt otherwise. She declared, even in 1903 when women were largely excluded from public life: “Women are men’s equals in every way and they are quite competent to hold their own in all spheres of life.”

‘The Flos Greig Enabling Bill’

Six years after entering the University of Melbourne, Flos witnessed the Victorian Legislative Assembly’s passing of the Women’s Disabilities Removal Bill, also known as the Flos Greig Enabling Bill. Suddenly, women could enter the practice of law. How had she made this happen?

While childhood had provided Flos with role models from both sexes, she did have to rely upon a series of men to navigate her entry into the exclusively male club of the legal profession. Her male classmates had initially questioned the capabilities of a woman lawyer and resisted her presence, but she soon persuaded them otherwise.

Not only did Flos graduate second in her class, but the men took a vote to declare – affirmatively – that women should be allowed to practice law. Their support undoubtedly fuelled her ambitions.

Next, Flos turned to one of her lecturers, John Mackey, who happened to also be a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly. Together they worked with other supporters to craft the legislative change. Mackey argued that by passing the law, Parliament could ease the concerns of women who believed they could not get justice from a legislative body made up only of men.

Still, Flos needed to complete a period of supervised training known as “articling” before she could be sworn into the bar. No Australian woman had ever engaged in the “articles of clerkship” before. A Melbourne commercial law solicitor Frank Cornwall employed her, and she was officially admitted to the practice of law on August 1, 1905.

Supreme Court of Victoria circa 1905 when Flos was admitted to practice.
State Library of Victoria.

At her swearing-in ceremony, Chief Justice John Madden described Flos as “the graceful incoming of a revolution”. He also expressed some scepticism about her future success:

Women are more sympathetic than judicial, more emotional than logical. In the legal profession knowledge of the world is almost if not quite as essential as knowledge of the law, and knowledge of the world, women, even if they possess it, would lie loth to assert.

Flos would prove him wrong about her knowledge of the world, both in law and in her other passion, travel.

‘What did I wear? Don’t ask me!’

At the ceremony, her name was the third called – in alphabetical order – before what was reportedly an “unusually large gathering of lawyers, laymen, and ladies … seldom seen in halls of justice”. Attendees noticed smiles that “flickered over the faces of the judges as they entered the crowded chamber” at the sight of Flos among her “somberly-clad male” counterparts.

News accounts focused more on the physical attributes of the first lady lawyer than her qualifications. When questioned by a reporter about her clothing choice for the occasion, Flos blushed, “What did I wear? Don’t ask me!” But then confessed, “Well, if you insist! I wore grey, with a greenish tinted hat, trimmed with violets!”

Another news reporter critiqued the flower-adorned hat as “a most unlegal costume”. As if there was any basis for making such an assessment – until that moment the nation had never seen the “costume” of a female lawyer. The media’s fixation with female lawyers’ appearance endures more than a century later.

Flos soon established a solo practice in Melbourne focusing on women and children. Among other endeavours, she represented the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in lobbying to establish the Children’s Court of Victoria.

A news clipping about Greig and her work.
Creative Commons, Courtesy of Australian Women’s Register.

Media fascination with Flos’s attire did not diminish once admitted to practice. She delivered a speech in 1905 to the third annual National Congress of Women of Victoria on a paper she wrote titled, “Some Points of the Law Relating to Women and Children”.

The reporter noted that Flos “treated her subject in a masterly manner, and gave an immense amount of useful and, at times, startling information”. But Flos’s “stylish, yet simple, gown of grey voile, with cream lace vest” was equally newsworthy as were “her pretty black hat and white gloves”. The fashion choices of other (male) speakers went unmentioned.

Flos also helped open the legal profession to other women. She founded The Catalysts’ Society in 1910. Two years later it became the prestigious Lyceum Club in Melbourne, devoted to advancing the careers of women and offering networking opportunities.

After the launch of the Women’s Law Society of Victoria in 1914, Flos was elected its first president. She cared deeply about the right of all women to vote, arguing in a 1905 debate that if “politics were not fit” for women, “the sooner they were made so the better.” (In 1908 Victorian women won the right the vote.)

Law was not Flos’s only pursuit. She travelled extensively. Two decades after graduating from law school, she took a lengthy trip through Asia, spending time in Singapore, China, Bali, Java, Malaysia and two weeks in the Burma jungle. She stayed in local homes and on her return, spoke to audiences about the experience, delighting them with tales of “leopards, tigers, wild pigs, peacocks, … and wild jungle fowl”. She lectured publicly and on radio stations about the geography, religion and race.

The end of her career took Flos to Wangaratta in Northern Victoria. She practised at a law firm headed by Paul McSwiney, and was known to explore the countryside in a “Baby Austin” tourer. She remained an activist, supporting higher education for women and the Douglas Credit Party, a political party that aimed to remedy the economic hardships of the 1930s depression.

Flos died in 1958. While she did not live to see other female firsts, such as the appointment of the first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria in 2003, Flos’ capacity to envision women as equals under the law places her among the profession’s greatest innovators.

Renee Newman Knake’s book Shortlisted: Women, Diversity, the Supreme Court & Beyond will be published by New York University Press in 2020.The Conversation

Renee Knake, RMIT Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation; Professor of Law at the University of Houston, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Recovered Aboriginal songs offer clues to 19th century mystery of the shipwrecked ‘white woman’



File 20181206 186076 1eym76.jpeg?ixlib=rb 1.1
An image of the landscape around Bairnsdale in the late-18th century. D. R Long (Daniel Rutter), between 1856 and 1883.
State Library of Victoria

Stephen Morey, La Trobe University and Jason Gibson, Deakin University

In 1846 Melbourne was gripped by a panic: a story had spread that a white woman had been shipwrecked off the coast of Gippsland and was living with Aboriginal people. “Expeditions” were sent to “rescue” her. Messages were left for her printed on handkerchiefs, and because some believed she was Scottish, some of these were written in Gaelic.

The expeditions sent to Gippsland resulted in the massacre of large numbers of Indigenous people from the Gunai/Kurnai community.

For generations, people have argued over whether the “white woman” really existed and if so, what happened to her. In her 2001 book The Captive White Woman of Gipps Land author Julie Carr recounted a story written in 1897 by Mary Howitt, the daughter of A.W. Howitt, an anthropologist and Gippsland magistrate, which told how the white woman later had children with an Aboriginal husband and drowned in McLennan’s strait. Carr came to the conclusion that evidence for the existence of the woman was inconclusive; government searches in 1846 and 1847 having failed to find her.

But we have recently identified two short songs in the Aboriginal language of Gippsland (Gunai/Kurnai) about the white woman’s story that provide some clues. These were in the papers of Howitt at the State Library of Victoria.

A handkerchief for the white woman shipwrecked in Gippsland.

A gift of possum skin

At the top of one page of Howitt’s notes headed August 23 1868, per J.C. Macleod (the son of an early pastoralist), Howitt wrote the following note:

Blacks told him [Macleod] in the early days the white woman was wrecked in the coast with some men who were killed – the woman being saved. She was a tall woman, young with very long black hair in ringlets (some said the hair was fair). … She was the Miss Howard who was about 16 years of age when the vessel in which she was going to Melbourne was lost. Daughter of Commissary Howard. Part of the vessel was after picked up in the ninety mile beach

Two Gunai/Kurnai songs are written on the same page. Howitt notes that these songs were composed by a “Dinni Birraark”, a senior songster and ritual specialist, where dinni is the word for “old” and the birraark is the name of an expert who was skilled in songs and magic. These men were said to fly and see beyond the physical world.

In the 1840s there were seven surviving men who held the title of Dinni Birraark. The composer of this song was likely to have been a man also known as Bunjil Bamarang from near Bairnsdale. Bunjil Bamarang was not his personal name, but indicated that he was an expert (Bunjil) in something. We do not know what Bamarang refers to, but it may indicate expertise in the use of the “spear shield”, which was called bammarook in Gunai/Kurnai.

One of these songs, written down by Howitt, directly mentions the “white woman”:


State Library of Victoria

We have transcribed this as:

U-auda kai-ū Lohan-tŭkan móka kat-teir nŭ́rrau-un-gŭl mūndū wánganna

Underneath the song, Howitt gives translations for many of the words. For instance, he translates Lohan-tŭkan as “white woman”. The overall meaning of the song seems to be, “Give the white woman from over the sea the possum skin skirt, and that blanket there.”

This genre of song, gunyeru, was traditionally sung with dancing at public gatherings, what might be otherwise commonly referred to as a “corroboree” (although the word “corroboree” originates from the Dharuk language spoken in the Sydney area). The Dinni Birraark was certainly an acknowledged expert in composing this style of song.

Burning ladders

On the same page, is a second song that seems to give more information about the Lohan-Tuka, or white woman’s, story:


State Library of Victoria

This we have transcribed as:

Blaung-a-requa drūraua kŭllŭngŭka

Wŭrūng-tūnkū bŭdda-tūnkū pŭtta-ngaiu

tūka-pŭnta kŭrnŭng-ŭka ma-kŭrnung-ita

In the first line of the song there are three words that Howitt translates as “burn”, “ladder” and “whitefellow”. This would appear to be a sentence meaning, “The whitefellow’s ladder is burning”.

When we remember that ships in the 1840s were sailing ships, we can imagine that the Dinni Birraark used a word that he knew – “ladder” – to represent the rigging on a sailing ship. As Gunai/Kurnai elder, Russell Mullett, pointed out to us, “As a senior man, the Dinni Birraark would have used a ladder in his ritual life.”

The remaining portions of this second song are harder to interpret. It seems that the Dinni Birraark was watching the burning of this ship from the narrow strip of land along the Ninety Mile Beach between the sea and the freshwater of the Gippsland Lakes.

In this place, perhaps a musk duck (Tuka) had a nest, there was a hollow place near to water. Intriguingly the word for white woman, Lohan Tuka, is a compound including the word for musk duck. Perhaps, as Mullett has suggested, the place where the Dinni Birraark watched this had an association with an ancestral musk duck.

The message printed on handkerchiefs in a bid to find the shipwrecked white woman.

These songs are composed as if witnessing real events: the wreck of a ship and the rescue of a young woman. Nothing is more naturally human than offering a young shipwreck victim a “skirt and a blanket”, and the description of the shipwreck as a “burning ladder” is fully plausible.

These two songs seem to suggest that there was a White Woman, the Lohan Tuka. There is much tragedy in this story – shipwreck, massacre, possible drowning. This history needs to be told and re-told.

What these songs reveal is an Indigenous perspective on it and a glimpse into the rich artistic culture of the Gunai/Kurnai. In the words of Mullett, “taken together these two songs are like an opera composed by the Dinni Birraark”.The Conversation

Stephen Morey, Senior Lecturer, Department of Languages and Linguistics, La Trobe University and Jason Gibson, Research fellow, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Article: Mexico – Julia Pastrana


The link below is to an article about the very sad story of Julia Pastrana, who was called the ‘Bear Woman’ and the ‘World’s Ugliest Woman.’

For more visit:
http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/02/14/worlds-ugliest-woman-finally-given-a-dignified-burial-153-years-after-her-death/


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